Find serenity year-round at this seaside retreat

May 21, 2024

Growing up in Utah, my family rarely traveled outside of the state. A “vacation” was driving 75 minutes south to my Granny’s house. I felt palpable excitement when I was 12 years old and went on a road trip to Arizona for my eldest cousin’s wedding. This included a stop at the Grand Canyon, by far the most magnificent sight I had seen in my young life. (Envision this: three sisters packed into the backseat, sometimes taking off seatbelts to sleep on the floorboards of the car. The 1980s were a different time….) 

Once I was in my 20s and had my own daughter, the urge to be gone…away…seeing new places and having new experiences, was ever present. Fortunately, my husband shares the same recurring need to escape the dizzying, tourism-heavy city where we reside. We have always been partial to a seaside retreat, particularly during the sweltering summer months of our desert lives. Thankfully, we are less than a five-hour drive from the Pacific Ocean—and a resort that has become an integral part of our family vacation memories. 

Enter Terranea 

Our first trip to Terranea Resort in California's Rancho Palos Verdes was in 2012 when it was still in its toddler age. The resort opened in June 2009 after a reinvention from its former life. (It was once home to Marineland of the Pacific, an animal theme park, as well as the backdrop for popular TV shows and movies from the 1950s onward.) 

From the moment we rounded the bend onto Palos Verdes Drive and I saw the white-peak waves of the ocean in the distance, I was hooked and knew I would frequently return. Terranea is a world unto itself. Guests don’t have to leave expansive acreage overlooking the bluffs to find relaxation, food and entertainment (and this guest doesn’t want to).   

Rest your head  

The guestroom you book matters. I say that in general, but it certainly applies at Terranea. While the resort grounds are well-manicured and stunning, I can’t imagine staying here without a view of the water. Being able to wake up and take coffee and a magazine to the balcony while overlooking the surf is a special experience. There have been many times when we’ve ordered in-room dining and had breakfast, lunch or dinner while seated on the balcony; it's that impressive even if you don't live inland. I’m always partial to the continental-style breakfast that includes a variety of pastries and coffee, while my husband is a meat-and-eggs man.

After a day wandering the trails, I’ve also spent evenings in the deep-soaking tub. For true indulgence, I recommend booking a bungalow, a casita or a villa. Casitas and villas have full gourmet kitchens, spacious living areas and some have fireplaces indoors or fire pits outdoors. Having this much space to spread out is especially good when traveling with friends or family.  

Celebrate at the resort

There hasn’t been a time when I’ve stayed at Terranea and haven’t taken to the trails that surround the 102-acre resort. During my first visit, we bundled up against the February weather and wandered down to the private cove. I stood at the shoreline, closed my eyes, took a deep breath of salty air and let the serenity of the water soothe me. We decided then that we would return for a New Year’s Eve stay and bring our then-13-year-old daughter.

The holidays at Terranea are an impressive display. A 30-foot-tall Christmas tree is adorned with decorations and topped with a star, and the sparkle of the season and feeling of new beginnings lingers in the air. One of the most impressive things is the 1,000-pound gingerbread house which guests can marvel at in the lobby lounge.

Events at the resort during this time of year include a Thanksgiving Champagne buffet, the tree-lighting ceremony, breakfast with Santa and a New Year’s Eve extravaganza. We spent plenty of time on our New Year’s Eve trip exploring the resort grounds. Our daughter was a fan of looking through binoculars out to the ocean and across the bluffs to the Point Vincente Lighthouse, most likely trying to spot a whale or dolphin in the water. That same evening, we had s’mores at an outdoor fire pit. We don’t tend to be party people, so we ordered in-room dining for our New Year’s Eve dinner and toasted with soda, chicken fingers, French fries and nachos. It was a cozy way to ring in 2013. 

Indulge your taste buds 

One of the best meals I have ever had in my life was at Terranea’s Catalina Kitchen: Long ribbons of pappardelle pasta topped with a rich Bolognese sauce and sprinkled with parmesan cheese and a classic Caesar salad. In fact, every meal I’ve had at Terranea has been memorable.

Each morning, you’ll find me at Sea Beans, the on-site coffee shop, ordering some flavor of latte and a pastry. I’m an early riser and my husband, Chris, likes to sleep in. So, coffee-shop time is something I often have on our vacation mornings. Give me a latte, a book to read and a notebook to journal in, and I will be in heaven for a couple of hours. (Do note that Sea Beans can sometimes be busy, so be prepared to wait a bit for the deliciousness and caffeine boost.)

On one of our trips, we were dining at Nelson’s, which is a casual spot that gives you ocean views from virtually every outdoor table. I had just dug into my Mediterranean salad when I spotted someone who looked extremely familiar. Wait…who is that? He looks so familiar. Then I realized it was Vince Vaughn, the actor, with his family and some friends. Ever since then, Chris and I have joked that we had lunch with Vince Vaughn.

For a fancier meal, Mar’sel delivers in spades. Its name is a combination of the Spanish word for sea and the French word for salt, and it has received a 4-star Forbes rating and 5 stars on OpenTable. The space is intimate with an indoor fireplace and doors that open to the patio with some tables situated near fire pits for nights that carry a bit of a chill. The menu is carefully crafted with local ingredients and produce comes from the chef’s garden; several of the entrées are vegetarian as well. The warm house-made breads and spreads are a must-order for pre-meal sharing. We shared the bombolinis (described on the menu as “beignet inspired”) with strawberry jam and Nutella. Chef’s kiss all the way. Additional dining spots include Bashi, which offers Southeast Asian cuisine, the Lobby Bar & Terrace where guests can relax for a quick bite and a cocktail along with live music (7-11 p.m. daily), and a couple other casual spots like Solviva and The Grill at Resort Pool.  

Decide how best to relax  

The resort's four pools all have stunning backdrops but serve different purposes depending on who is in your group and what type of setting you prefer. For adults-only relaxation, set up your towel at Cielo Point Pool which sits next to the trail aside the rocky cliffs leading down to the water. Vista Pool is its own oasis for guests ages 13 and older. With daybeds, shaded chairs and swaying palm trees, it’s an ideal spot to lounge the day away. If you brought little kiddos along, they will be impressed by the 5,000-square-foot Resort Pool which includes a 140-foot waterslide, a splash pad and poolside cabanas to rent (for an additional fee). Each pool gives guests the option to order cold beverages, tasty bites and desserts so you never have to leave the poolside sunshine.

The Spa at Terranea is another way to experience a day of bliss. Treatment options include an entire holistic sauna retreat, an ocean’s renewal massage, CBD massages and stone therapy. Many treatments draw from nature’s elements including the ocean, earth and fire. Facials can be tailored to specific skin types and enhancements can be added to plump lips or enhance eyes. If you aren’t looking for a full spa day, the fitness center is open to overnight guests and spa guests aged 16 and older. For access to the spa pool (exclusive to spa guests) and other amenities, a spa day pass can also be purchased.  

If you're a golfer, you're in luck. The Links at Terranea is a 9-hole, par-3 course and a combination of fun and challenging. You won’t need a driver because the holes are short (the shortest being 104 yards). I made the mistake of using my driver and hit the ball onto a separate hole from the one we were playing. Walking from tee-off to the green is a welcome experience. It’s an opportunity to take in the surroundings. The emerald of the manicured fairways, the tan of the bunkers and the various hues of blue where sky meets sea are individual components of breathtaking scenery. From the challenge of Portuguese Bend to the view of Point Vincente Lighthouse at Captain’s Bluff, The Links is a joy from the first drive to the final putt.  

Making memories 

The author with her husband

We have our next Terranea visit planned for this summer. I’m already looking forward to seeing the vista when we round the bend headed toward the resort. I have my time roughly planned out from morning lattes at Sea Beans to trail strolls along the bluffs to poolside time with a book. When we go to check out, I will ask Chris, “Why are they making us leave?” And he will remind me that we could pay more to stay longer. I will reluctantly make my way to the valet station for the car trip home to the desert. You’ll be glad to know that my husband is typically the driver, and I no longer sleep on the floorboards of vehicles. 

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